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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK

Mandela: South Africa's golden export

Will South Africa find its way without him?

Africa Correspondent Jane Standley reports on the challenges facing the "Rainbow nation" - as Nelson Mandela calls the people of South Africa - as their leader celebrates his 80th birthday:

The crock of gold at the end of South Africa's rainbow is Nelson Mandela.

[ image: Jane Standley]
Jane Standley
He is pure solid gold, a better export than the Krugerands minted from the heart of the nation's soil. His image is sold on aprons and oven gloves, on coasters and fridge magnets.

Everyone is excited that Madiba, as he is affectionately known - Grandfather - is 80 years old.

His birthday has even been trademarked for charity. Every colour in the rainbow of South Africa's people beams with pride when Nelson charms another city, another country on one of his overseas tours.

His is the shining smile which dazzles the eyes of investors who would otherwise often question more thoroughly the direction in which South Africa is heading.

Some of the country's communities believe the direction is that of the rand - downwards.

'White Flight'

I met Athena in the offices of the company that helped her immigrate to Australia - the chosen land of "White Flight" from South Africa.

[ image: Johannesburg:
Johannesburg: "Appalling violence"
Athena is on her first trip back since she emigrated - she described in breathy rapture her new life in Brisbane on the Australian Gold Coast.

"I never have to lock my door at night - my children can play outside the house. The fear of violence in Johannesburg fell like a heavy lead weight from my shoulders the minute I got off the plane."

I tell Athena that in the few weeks I have been in this country I have had many warnings about the appalling violence, the armed robbery every ten minutes, the rape every 12, the murder rate eight times that of the United States.

And I have also had many warnings not to listen solely to the prophets of doom, to those who enjoyed the economic and lifestyle fruits of the inhumanity of apartheid and who now cannot adjust to life in the real world of the most traumatised of societies.

But I have to listen to Athena.

"We had been married twenty years before the robbers came and shot him. I had to go to my husband's business and continue running it. Thirty days after he was killed there, I was down on my knees with a gun at my head, pleading for my life to another gang of criminals. "

Athena does not even dare to walk back from the café where we go for coffee in a glitzy white Johannesburg suburb to the emigration company's offices.

'Nowhere except downwards'

It is less than five minutes on foot, but I go with her - Athena's fear is intense, her personal suffering appalling.

And so we talk - like everyone is doing - about the crumbling of the rand.

"This would frighten me too," she says, "if I was still trying to leave South Africa. It is hard to get money out of the country - and now it is worth less and less. What will it be worth in a year's time if you do not go now? This country's going nowhere except downwards."

Such pessimism is understandable given what Athena has been through. But I am impressed by her resilience, her determination to go on and provide for her children. And also her self-criticism of the life she once lived in South Africa.

"I have found that I can live without my Mercedes, my maid, my cook and my swimming pool. Materialism has helped drive this country down."

We laugh about the white South African obsession with the obligatory swimming pool.

I tell her I found it hard to find a house to rent without one, and of the many back gardens I saw the size of a tablecloth which had handkerchief sized pools.


[ image: Little opportunity for
Little opportunity for "Black Flight" from Soweto
But of course I am not renting a house in Soweto - where I go to when I have left Athena - to get the other side of the economic coin.

There are few swimming pools here, even though there is middle class black money as well as shanties in the huge township.

Dumisane Mashita rents a home in the lower end of the market and runs a 10p a call public phone business out of a rusting metal box which I realise was once one of the containers which are loaded onto ships.

"Oh sister a bank loan to expand! You whites are crazy! Of course I would like a loan, but the banks will not touch a man like me! And the interest rates have gone up three times in the past week!"

The red blotched grey walls of Dumisane's container are plastered with posters of his hero - the murdered American rap star Tupac Amaru Shakur.

His music plays on a beaten up boom box - and Dumisane jives along in time as the crowded vans, which serve as public transport, honk their horns and belch their pollution at him.

He has an interesting take on the appointment of the first black governor of the Central Bank - a government minister who has no banking experience.

Dealer speculation about South Africa's new bank manager caused the run on the rand.

Dumisane says: "It is like this. I give you my car to drive. Except I do not have one - but let us pretend. And when you bring it back, I say now let me teach you to drive. It is no good. But you know we blacks have to start somewhere and we will build this country up nice and strong ... one day."

Again I find myself admiring a different South African's resilience.

Dumisane's business is barely ticking over. His customers are economising on "luxuries" like phone calls, bracing themselves for the hard times they expect ahead.

Celebrating Mandela

Macroeconomics may not have been on their inferior curriculum under apartheid's Bantu Education Act, but their street sense tells them the news is not good.

[ image: Fans at a concert for Nelson Mandela in Wembley, England]
Fans at a concert for Nelson Mandela in Wembley, England
No one talks of the higher levels of violence in the townships, that there is little opportunity for "Black Flight."

So they must cherish and celebrate what they have - Mandela comes pretty close to the top of many lists.

A customer has made a long distance call. Dumisane rubs the coins in his hands.

"You know all the children here are sending Madiba birthday cards? My little girl Thandi, now I have this money she too can wish him a happy birthday. "

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